Pig Review: Cage delivers career-best performance in an unexpected emotional journey
Audiences have seen actor Nicolas Cage delve into Lovecraftian horror with Color Out of Space and some wild horror premises with films like Mandy and Willy’s Wonderland lately, but his latest film, Pig, doesn’t fit that mold.
On the surface, it seems like the kind of strange film that would easily attract the likes of Cage as it follows an isolated truffle forager having to face a life he’s left behind after his foraging pig is stolen from him and at the start it’s easy to see it that way. Sure, there’s something strange about seeing a dirty, thick-bearded Cage walking around the woods in search of truffles with a trusty pig by his side and there’s something off about the dynamic of his relationship with his young business associate Amir (Alex Wolff). However, even for the opening’s slow pacing and seemingly unclear direction, Pig quickly becomes something much deeper.
The initial setting and cinematography from Patrick Scola work well in creating an environment and lifestyle that’s almost otherworldly and of another time entirely, which is fitting for Rob’s (Cage) detachment from modern living. The visual difference between Rob’s rustic and simplistic living choices and Amir’s modern look is incredibly striking and telling of how Rob has left a former life behind. The way he clutches a cassette tape and struggles to listen to the voice on it instantly makes you feel his struggles with grief and the loss of someone. Along with his lackluster relationship with Amir, it’s clear that Rob has chosen this new life to try to hide pain he’s been trying to forget for years and it’s something that’s felt throughout Cage’s performance.
Cage has been gaining a resurgence for some of the more manic and insane performances he’s delivered in a lot of his recent horror outings and they’re definitely uniquely fun to watch. However, that’s not what you get here and the quieter, darker, and more dramatic performance he delivers in Pig really reflects his genuine acting talent. This is a Cage we haven’t seen in a long time and his performance here is one of his best. Throughout Rob’s journey in finding his pig and facing a life he’s chosen to forget, there’s this emotional hurt that Cage carries in his performance. He may not say a lot, but Cage’s performance embodies the toll that grief has taken on Rob with his unflinching desire to reclaim what’s been taken from him and struggles to face his past. Cage’s performance is really where the heart of Pig lies, and it creates an unexpected emotional journey for both Rob and Amir.
At first, you don’t really know much about these two and they couldn’t seem more different. Rob’s rustic living clashes with Amir expensive modern lifestyle and there doesn’t seem to be much that connects them. Honestly, Amir is only going along with Rob because he doesn’t want his business to be impacted. However, as Amir begins to understand Rob’s background as a prolific Portland, Oregon chef that disappeared after the loss of his wife, there’s a genuine connection that grows between them that’s satisfying to see and allows Amir’s own struggles to come out. The connection Rob’s food has to a loving moment in Amir’s parents’ conflictful marriage is incredibly touching and his realization of who Rob really is sparks his own emotional journey with his family and aspirations to earn his father’s (Adam Arkin) respect in the business.
It’s actually great how Amir’s story with his father equally reflects the same themes about grief consuming and changing people. Amir is someone who’s poshness and high-class attitude make him tough to like at first, but as he opens up about his own grief and grows a budding connection with Rob, you really begin to relate to him. This is made more impactful through Wolff’s performance and it’s really another major triumph for him in his career. Since his performance in Hereditary, he’s really been a name to watch and Pig only furthers the emotional depth he can bring to a performance.
Rob’s story is what really shines through in Pig though as his face-to-face dealings with his past not only reflect his grief, but what matters most to him. Although he hasn’t been on the Portland scene in a long time, writer/director Michael Sarnoski depicts the strength of Rob’s name in fascinating ways. At face value, most would just see him as a nothing hobo, but the second they learn his name, everything changes. Much like most professions, making your name have prominence and meaning is everything in succeeding in the culinary world – along with excellent skills and creativity of course. The way that doors just open for Rob and the instant respect he gets at the mere mention of his name is just incredible and proves there’s something deeper to him than most people see.
Even the past relationships we see him confront reflect his prominence, but also remind him of a good through line in his life – food. Although he was this renowned chef, he appreciated the simplistic love of cooking and how his food impacted the lives of the people that ate it. This love for food is something that slowly comes out as Rob navigates his former life in Portland, including a great sequence of him visiting the high-end contemporary restaurant of a former prep-cook where the film delightfully pokes fun at contemporary culinary while making a great point about maintaining a real love of cooking rather than throwing away who you are for financial success, and ends up playing a strong role in the film’s dealing with grief. There’s something really meaningful about the ways that food plays a mending role in Rob, Amir, and Amir’s father dealing with their grief. Rob’s use food to make people feel emotions they haven’t felt in a while is incredibly touching and the way Amir helps Rob in this same way makes their relationship so special and gives the film’s themes of grief deeply personal.
By its tear-jerking, yet satisfying end, Pig will leave a deeper impact than expected and is easily the greatest surprise of 2021 so far. It’s a film that has so much more to it beneath the surface as it provides an unexpected emotional journey that delves into grief and legacy through one man’s journey to reclaim his stolen pig while showcasing Cage in an unusually dramatic light so he can deliver a career-best performance.